Located in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a city of wondrous beauty and cultural wealth, often graced by the aroma of incense offered by visitors at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. With seasoned hospitality players and a lively entrepreneurial scene, Chiang Mai has witnessed a surge in popularity among international tourists, including visitors from China – our biggest international market before the devastating pandemic struck.
Recent however, incidents like the unfortunate shooting episode in Siam Paragon shopping mall on October 3 have considerably dented the confidence of travellers, particularly from China. The repercussions can be seen in the form of approximately 60,000 cancellations from Chinese tourists amid security concerns. This aspect was highlighted in Airports of Thailand data that reported a drop in Chinese arrivals by 9.2% from a previous 650,000 to 590,000 visitors.
With Chiang Mai being a preferred destination for Chinese visitors, this dip in tourism has been felt dominantly in this city. The presence of five Chinese airlines flights, including Juneyao Airlines, Spring Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Sichuan Airlines and Air China, indicates our unique connection with China.
Our conversations with stakeholders, including hoteliers, tourism officials and others, demonstrate a common sentiment: the government needs to augment security mechanisms to ensure the safety of tourists and restore their confidence.
Standard Tour Co Ltd, a top tour operator, noted that following the shooting incident, several reservation cancellations and delays triggered by safety concerns were observed. It was noticed that many travellers posted apprehensions about visiting countries where gun possession is unrestricted. The extent of the concern is such that Chinese visitors now make up less than 50% of pre-Covid-19 levels.
While the declining tourism trend can be attributed to several factors, our stakeholders are optimistic. For example, Chiang Mai Airport expanding its operations to function around the clock from November onwards allows for more flights and therefore, more visitors. Apart from enhancing gun control measures, it is also necessary to position Thailand as a safe and eco-friendly travel destination.
Inclusivity in tourism, coupled with regulatory amendments like modifications in the Building Control Act, a step empowering small hotel entrepreneurs, can lead to a restored confidence in Thailand’s tourism industry that is still grappling with the pandemic’s aftershock.
Despite a conservative forecast of five million Chinese visitors for this year, visa-free entry until February next year is an encouraging initiative. From January to September, over 150,000 Chinese tourists flew directly from China, 62,626 arrived from Taiwan, 38,457 from Hong Kong and 37,000 from Malaysia. This resilience among tourists offers hope for our flagging industry if we maintain a positive mindset and take accurate remedial measures.